Toronto-based racetrack and betting operator Woodbine Entertainment announced Tuesday that Jim Lawson is stepping down this fall after eight years as CEO to spend more time with his family.
“During my time with Woodbine, we’ve become a multi-dimensional organization, having expanded our scope and reputation as a world leader in dual-breed horse racing, while working meticulously and respectfully to drive new revenues that will continue to support the Ontario horse-racing industry for decades to come,” Lawson said. “I have every confidence that Woodbine Entertainment is on a path to a very strong and sustainable future.”
A big challenge for Lawson coming into the job in 2015 was developing a strategic vision for property development of the nearly 700-acre Woodbine Racetrack.
Under Lawson’s leadership, Standardbred racing was brought to Woodbine Mohawk Park on a year-round basis, helping to establish it as a top harness racetrack in North America, as well as pushing the organization to become an industry leader in equine and horse-people safety. Lawson helped protect the racing industry as single-sports wagering was legalized in Canada and, of course, navigated Woodbine Entertainment through COVID, including putting on the Queen’s Plate in 2020, keeping it the longest continuously run stakes race in North America.
In 2019, Lawson helped to secure a historic funding agreement with the Ontario government that allots up to $105 million annually to horse-racing-industry stakeholders over a 19-year period, giving breeders, owners, and trainers stability.
On the development front, the Woodbine Community Plan released in March detailed how one of the largest pieces of undeveloped land in Toronto can be transformed over the next 25 years into a large-scale urban community, connecting people there to Toronto via a proposed privately funded train station. The project would create 17,000 jobs.
And a lot of excitement surrounds the new $1 billion Vegas-style resort that will open this summer adjacent to Woodbine Racetrack, featuring a 400-room hotel, restaurants, and a 5,000-seat entertainment venue.
Although details weren’t announced, it’s expected that Lawson will still be associated with Woodbine in a senior role.
“Obviously, I’m happy for Jim, in that he and Sue will be able to take time to do some things they’d like to do,” said dual Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse. “I’ll miss his leadership. He’s done so many great things for Woodbine. A lot of things are in the works and Woodbine is going to continue to get bigger and stronger. They have already under his leadership. I can see it as I go around. Woodbine has become much more popular in the U.S. than it was 15 to 20 years ago. I think a lot of that comes from Jim’s vision.”
Hugh Mitchell, chair of Woodbine Entertainment’s board of directors, says the board’s succession committee is working now to find the next CEO.